Given the degree of fluoridation in the US, you might be surprised to learn that dental caries (tooth decay) is still the most common chronic disease in children. More than 40% of children aged 2 to 11 have had decay in their baby teeth. Nearly a quarter of children have untreated decay.
And adults are hardly doing better. Nearly all – 92% – have experienced caries in their permanent teeth.
No wonder more folks are looking for alternatives to fluoride – alternatives that are non-toxic and actually work.
One popular option of late is xylitol, a sugar alcohol commonly used as a sugar substitute. Among its dental benefits:
- Increased saliva production.
- Reduced acidity in saliva.
- Increased absorption of calcium.
On the downside, consume too much xylitol and you may experience digestive issues such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. And while xylitol may come from natural sources like birch trees or corn, corn derivatives are more common because they’re cheaper. Since so much corn is GMO, you want to make sure you get a non-GMO certified product, should you choose to use it.
But there may be another option: Stevia rebaudiana, A/K/A stevia.
Stevia’s Impact on Oral Health
Stevia is a perennial shrub native to South America, and you’re probably familiar with it as a zero calorie sweetener. Its sweetness comes from a number of related compounds in the plant – compounds that appear to have antimicrobial activity, as well.
According to a new review of the literature, published early this year in the journal Molecules,
Several studies have suggested that in addition to their sweetness, steviosides and their related compounds, including rebaudioside A and isosteviol, may offer additional therapeutic benefits. These benefits include anti-hyperglycaemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory actions. Additionally, critical analysis of the literature supports the anti-bacterial role of steviosides on oral bacteria flora.
No doubt, further research is needed to evaluate the effects on decay with regular consumption of stevia. This study hardly says, “Hey, eat a lot of stevia and you won’t get cavities.” Nor does it negate the importance of an overall healthful diet, rich in fresh veg, low in sugar, white flour, and other fermentable carbs.
What it does suggest is that stevia could be a helpful support for good oral health. And unlike xylitol, it appears to have no side effects.
Indeed, it seems to be a suitably sweet, side effect-free, and natural alternative most of us can easily add to our diets now if we choose. If you do, make sure you opt for a high quality product. You’ll find some good tips for doing so here.
Diagram by Liz20151222 via Wikimedia Commons